The Higher ED Blog: How your local library can support economic development
Michelle Madden / March 7, 2016
At last month’s Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) Conference, I had the pleasure of arranging and attending a field trip to the Toronto Public Library (TPL). You might be wondering why a group of economic developers would go to a place full of dusty books and oppressive silence. The thing is, libraries are modernizing faster than you think, evolving from places where books are freely available to places where knowledge is freely available.
Richard Florida has declared that “Capitalism is in the midst of an epochal transformation from its previous industrial model to a new one based on creativity and knowledge”, a stance that is shared by the OECD and accepted by the Government of Canada. While Canadians are remarkably well-educated, many groups (including recent immigrants, Aboriginals, and older Canadians) are being left behind. For these groups, traditional education institutions may not be accessible for many reasons. There is a huge opportunity for public libraries to fill the gap.
TPL has embraced this opportunity and enthusiastically treated our group to an overview of the many ways it promotes business knowledge and skill development. I had done a bit of research in advance, but I was still amazed by the breadth of these services. I was inspired to share their approach via Higher ED to show economic developers how local libraries can support their goals. While the Toronto Public Library is massive (one of the world’s busiest) and well-funded, I still think it’s an example that communities of all sizes can learn from. Here are three ways your local library can (and might already) support economic development.
Passive resources for current and aspiring business owners
TPL is a treasure trove of information for business. Curious minds will find data for market research (like CANSIM, MarketLine, and Scott’s Directories), books and videos on business plans and other relevant topics, and even a subscription to online education service Lynda.com. All of these resources are free to library cardholders and many can be accessed online from home.
If all of that information is overwhelming, you can ‘book’ (bad pun intended) a librarian for an hour. The librarians are prepared to help with everything from a basic orientation to the library’s resources, to in-depth help with research.
Active learning opportunities for current and aspiring business owners
For those who prefer more active learning, TPL offers a ton of business-related programming, many offered in collaboration with economic development organizations and postsecondary institutions. Here are a few highlights from their program series:
Business Inc. is an 8-week business program that helps participants prepare or update a business plan, with help from a business advisor. Those who finish get a certificate from the Toronto Business Development Centre, and are eligible to apply for a small business loan up to $30,000. With help from the Toronto Public Library Foundation (a charity that supports the Library), the cost per participant is just $150.
Entrepreneur in Residence
For a month every year, TPL finds an accomplished entrepreneur to serve as its Entrepreneur in Residence. The EiR delivers seminars but the real draw is free one-on-one time to get advice on a business plan or idea. The Library also has an annual Innovator in Residence, each specializing in a technology like 3D printing, robotics, or filmmaking.
Pop-Up Business Incubator
Humber College brings a one-day Pop-Up Business Incubator to the Richview branch every month. The free program is a way for the college’s HumberLaunch incubator to share its resources with the community. These resources include business consultation and workshops with industry professionals.
Small Business Series
One-off programs for small businesses run throughout the year. Recent and upcoming topics include self-financing, social media for small business, how to get media coverage, and even a babysitting course. TPL also hosts networking events for small business people, each featuring a talk from an entrepreneur or expert to maximize the learning opportunities.
The Toronto Public Library also provides skills training, with a special focus on technology. At one end of the spectrum, it provides access to computer stations and very basic computer training, right down to how to use a mouse. At the other, The Digital Innovation Hubs provide access to high tech equipment like 3D printers, digital design software, digital cameras, and audio tools, and courses on how to use them. The library makes technology accessible to people of all skill and income levels, which is a great equalizer when digital literacy is both necessary and expected among workers and business owners.
The programs and services above are just a few examples of how libraries can support economic development. Their collections, event spaces, and enthusiastic staff are fantastic resources that should be used to their full potential. If you’re as inspired as I was, I recommend that you befriend your local librarian and learn what they have. Then make a commitment to work together and find more ways to support each other’s goals. Your local library probably already offers some of these resources and services, but with a little collaboration, it can likely do more; and that’s a win for everyone in the community.
About the author
Michelle Madden is the editor of Higher ED. She is also the Outreach Manager for the Economic Development Program and a graduate of the Local Economic Development master’s program. She has authored many Higher ED articles on behalf of students and to share other kinds of information relevant to economic development practitioners. She has published several of her own blogs on economicdevelopment.org as well. Follow her on Twitter at @michelle_mad.
About the series
Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.
Established in 1988, the Local Economic Development program is the only master’s program in Canada devoted solely to local economic development. It offers a balance between theory and practice by combining coursework, a major research paper, an internship, and weekly seminars featuring guest speakers. Students are prepared for careers in local, community, or regional economic development.
The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.